WASHINGTON (WAVY) - The Navy said Thursday it will stop all work on its Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) regarding potential Outlying Landing Fields (OLF) to replace Fentress Field in Chesapeake for at least three years.
LT Paul Macapagal, a Navy spokesperson, released the following statement to WAVY News 10:
"The Navy is suspending release of and stopping work on the Outlying Landing Field (OLF) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) until the east coast Navy Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) basing and training requirements are better defined. The East Coast Navy JSF Basing EIS will commence at a time to be determined, but no earlier than 2014. Thus, no earlier than 2014, the Navy will re-evaluate the OLF requirement and potential east coast JSF home basing locations."
WAVY has learned the Navy is suspending the OLF DEIS while is focuses on home basing the new Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) on the West Coast.
Navy JSF squadrons are proposed to be based on the West Coast beginning in 2015.
The announcement means there will be no movement on a potential replacement for Fentress Auxiliary Landing Field for at least three years. Fentress serves as an OLF for fighter jets stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach.
You don't have to search hard to see how people in Gates County feel about the proposed OLF. People here have been fighting the Navy for years. They wanted to see the proposed landing strip go somewhere else. They're worried about the noise and what it could do the environment.
"We really don't want it here," said Gates County resident Larry Davis.
The Navy had several possible sites picked out in rural Virginia and North Carolina. Navy officials wanted to build an airfield where pilots could practice aircraft carrier landings.
"In North Carolina, they have been trying to put a base here for over 10 years," added Gates County Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan.
For now, the fight has been put on hold, so have the plans for an OLF. Navy officials were in the process of doing an environmental study which has now been postponed.
"I felt like it's great news for the county," added Jernigan. "We've been fighting this thing for the last three years and this tells us that maybe they are going to look and decide if it's really needed in our area."
Navy Officials tell WAVY.com the reason the OLF has been delayed is because of the new F-35C jets. Officials want to determine where jets will be based before constructing an OLF. A decision won't be made anytime before 2014. The longer the better for people in Gates County.
"We have a lot of elderly people that have been here for years," Davis said. "I'm a service man myself and I know the noise. The noise is rough at night for people sleeping."
The Navy announced in August, 2009 that it was delaying the release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement, saying delays had pushed the OLF timeline back to a point where it coincided with the commencement of the EIS process for homebasing of the F-35C Navy Joint Strike Fighter.
At the time, the Navy said including JSF data in the OLF EIS would ensure the Navy incorporates all relevant factors in the analysis in a fiscally responsible manner.
The Navy has been exploring the development of an OLF since 2000, citing the lack of training capacity at Oceana and Fentress.
Oceana and Fentress have been encircled by suburban development. The Navy contends that it needs another strip to relieve the pressure on the two facilities.
Sites for the potential OLF were identified in Surry, Southampton, and Sussex Counties, in Virginia;, and in Camden and Gates Counties in North Carolina.
"The Navy made the right decision," said Vance Aydlett Jr., chairman of the Currituck County, N.C., Board of Commissioners, in a statement. "The Navy promised that it would not build an OLF in a community that did not want it and today it followed through on the promise."
Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., said in a statement that she was thrilled with the Navy's decision.
"We do not want an OLF in northeastern North Carolina," Hagan said. "The people I meet with are absolutely outraged at the prospect of an OLF in their backyards, and I have been working to prevent it."
Last September, North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue and the state's top legislative leaders signed a letter sent to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus saying the outlying landing field shouldn't be forced upon any community in the state.
The letter said the state didn't oppose the landing field idea "at an appropriate location in North Carolina."
"I am so proud of the citizens of Camden and Currituck counties," said Sandra Duckwall, chairman of the Camden County Board of Commissioners. "From grassroots citizen groups to school children, our community bonded together to protect our region's quality of life."
In Virginia Beach, home of Naval Air Station Oceana, officials remain confident that the delay in any Fentress OLF replacement will not negatively impact the Master Jet Base.
"When you think back a few years ago and
Oceana was on the chopping block, any time you hear anything pertaining to a change or pertaining to Oceana it's going to perhaps be an alert or an alarm to someone," Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms told WAVY News 10 on Friday.
And while the Mayor understands the concern among some business leaders and citizens in Virginia Beach, for now he does not share that concern.
"II say it also with a great deal of confidence."
According to Sessoms, Virginia Beach's efforts to curb development around Oceana has won great favor with the Navy.
"We have become a model for how to deal with encroachments, one that the Navy's using across the country."
Congressman Scott Rigell issued a statement to 10 On Your Side on Friday, stating "I have been actively engaged with the Navy over this issue and I will work with the other members of the Virginia Delegation and take the necessary steps to proactively support our critical military assets."
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